Firefox 3.1 Proposal: Tabs in the Awesome Bar
It’s a scalable and elegant solution. It has the hallmark of a good interface: it’s almost invisible, with no training required to gain the benefits of the feature. In one fell swoop it solves the twin problem of (1) it being easier to open a new page than it is to find an existing tab (2) the cognitive overload (and Hick’s Law penalty) of being required to think about whether something is already open in a tab, or whether I need to open it in a new tab.
I simply type where I want to go, and Firefox does the right thing.
After getting some insightful comments from Jenny Boris, who has been leading the charge in good thinking about tabs, we think it’s a feature we should try to get into Firefox 3.1. In particular, she asked me to try my hand at some mockups.
Here are three ideas on a theme; my preference is for the last. Although not pictured well, matching tabs should be ranked above plain URLs.
In terms of interaction there is only one complication: What happens if you want to open a new tab to a location that’s already open in another tab?
There are two solutions. The first is to make explicit a behavior that already exists in Firefox; holding down option while selecting a URL from the location bar opens it in a new tab. That’s the type of solution I’ve included in the mockups.
The second solution, proposed by Alex Faaborg, is much more subtle. If the user has opened a new tab, and then entered a URL, they probably mean to start a new navigation task instead of switching. Note that this solution can be used in conjunction with the first. While we both like how unobtrusive this solution, we worry that it might make Firefox feel too “magic”, or unreliable — not knowing why your browser has done something is unsettling.
Luckily, this is an edge-case that won’t happen often and any of the solutions will work well enough to be quickly polished to perfection with user testing.
My hunch is that adding tabs to the awesome bar will drastically simplify the day-to-day hunt-and-peck for tabs with a minimal change to Firefox. It’s a huge win. Another benefit is that it can work seamlessly with Weave in the future—which will be especially useful for calling up information that you were just looking at on your desktop, on your mobile device. What does everyone else think? This feature is still in fledgling mockup stage—although we hope to move it forward quickly. Madhava proposed a couple other sketch ideas for how a tab-awesome bar integration could look. We’d love other sketches if you think there are other directions to explore.